I always like to think I got my first writing break via Aunt Haysl. I had my first writing published when I was in primary school in the Hays Junior League magazine. I remember my excitement and pride in having my work published for all to see. I think it was a poem that I’m sure these days I would see as extremely cringe worthy.
Hays Ltd was one of the Iconic Christchurch department stores of my youth, along with Beaths and DIC. It stood in Gloucester Street where Farmers has stood for years. When I was young, they had a wonderland there known as Hays Roof. It was a small scale amusement park, with miniature train and merry go round and holiday activites, not forgetting the rubbish bins made of fibreglass in the shape of animals!
Hays was also the founding supporter of the Santa Parade, which will soon be upon us as part of the Christmas season.
The Aunt Haysl role was created as a person who could be a friend to the children and attract customers to the store. I just loved going up to the roof, it was such a magical place. Aunt Haysl was a role played by several women over the years, but the most famous was Edna Neville, who was the fifth Aunt Haysl. This was the one I knew, and who was in the role from 1944 to 1981. She was always friendly, would stop and chat to you and never seemed to tire of the attention from her fans. A huge fireplace was built on Hay’s Roof and children gathered there every Friday night to eat bread and saveloys and drink billy tea from water boiled on the fire.
The first four women who were Aunt Haysl stayed in the position for a comparatively short time. Edna Neville, one of the original staff members, had longed to be Aunt Haysl and was overjoyed to be offered the chance to take over the role in 1944. She was a tremendous success in the position where she stayed until her retirement in 1981.
What are your childhood memories of Aunt Haysl and the Hays Roof? Do your children love the Santa Parade?
I loved the Hays roof! I really knew that Christmas was close when my parents would take me and my siblings up to see Father Christmas and go on the rides. I still remember those windows with different animated scenes behind them, like the spooky one with the ghost. That’s what made Christmas magical for me.
Hay’s Roof must have been wonderful. I found this entry in my grandmother Ngaire’s diary from 1949:
The children went to swimming at the Tepid Baths. I met them afterwards and we had lunch in town then shopped and then went to Hay’s Roof. Here Carol and Warwick had rides on the switchback, aeroplane merry-go-round and pedal-go-round. Then we saw the pictures for 30 minutes. We called at Mother’s for afternoon tea.
Thanks for sharing this Michelle. It must have been wonderful to have a permanent attraction for families right in the heart of the city. Easily accessible by modern transport etc. Our modern developers could learn from this.
When did Father Christmas first appear on Hays roof?
Kia ora Pamela – if you try filling out the Ask a Librarian form, someone might be able to find out. https://my.christchurchcitylibraries.com/ask-a-librarian/